Art in Christian Life (7)
My heart is overflowing with a good theme;
I recite my composition concerning the King;
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Psalm 45.1
Our chief end in life
TheWestminster Shorter Catechism reminds us that mankind’s chief end in life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. All that we are and have, all that we think and do, everything to which we aspire and for which we yearn, is to be turned to the praise, glory, enjoyment, and honor of our mighty God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For this is life eternal, that we might know God, and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent, and knowing Him, might find our greatest joy and pleasure being in His presence, and our entire life’s purpose in seeking His Kingdom and righteousness (Jn. 17.3; Ps. 16.11; Matt. 6.33).
What could be a more fitting use of art than as a means of honoring and extolling the God Who gave this good and perfect gift to us? In discovering His joy and presence in some work of art, and being drawn by delight to praise and thank Him for His goodness? Or to share His beauty, truth, and goodness with others by sharing our love for those forms of art which plainly and powerfully reveal Him?
Some of the greatest achievements in the treasury of art history are those works devoted to exalting God and holding Him up to praise. They provide us with abundant and powerful opportunities to enter the glory of God and to declare that glory to others. Let’s consider a few examples.
J. S. Bach
If for this aspect of the use of art in Christian life we lingered only on Johann Sebastian Bach, we would find abundant reason to glory in and glorify our Lord. Bach regarded his music as theology in song; he sought to capture the richness, sweetness, intricacy, beauty, delicacy, power, and wisdom of God in all his musical compositions, and to tell the story of His redeeming grace as many ways as he could.
Before beginning a composition, Bach would write the initials, “J J” at the top of his manuscript – Latin for “Jesus, help.” Then, when his work was completed, he would inscribe the initials, “S D G” at the end, or the words, soli deo gloria – to God alone be the glory. Bach’s music points and lifts us to the transcendent realm, and the great Creator and Sovereign Lord Who rules over all things. His influence in the history of music is vast, affecting everything from hymnody, to symphony, opera, folk music, and rock. His work offers not only many inroads to and glimpses of the glory of God, but an example of how work done to God’s glory can affect others as well.
Artists for the Lord
Other examples of this same practice can be found in poetry. Poets as varied in time and place as Ephraim, Colum Cille, Petrarch, Dante, Spenser, Herbert, Milton, Hopkins, Milosz, and Wilbur have pursued their art with a view to exalting the beauty, goodness, and truth of God. Gerard Manley Hopkins, unknown as a poet in his own day, plied this calling with faithfulness and unsurpassed beauty, and has left a legacy of work that can teach us to reflect on the world around us with an eye to knowing and glorifying God.
The same can be said of such painters as Caravaggio, Dürer, Rembrandt, and Philip R. Jackson; hymn writers from every age of the Church; assorted story-tellers, novelists, and essayists – such as Madeleine L’Engle, C. S. Lewis, Flannery O’Connor, and Wendell Berry; folk artists; instrumentalists; designers and architects; sculptors; and many more.
The history of the Christian movement is adorned with artists from every age whose work captures the glory of God, and can lead us to experience and proclaim that glory. Besides these, many artists who have not been people of faith, drawing on the example of Christian artists, have produced works of beauty, goodness, and truth that reflect the glory of God. One thinks of Dürer’s influence on young Andrew Wyeth, the psalms on Whitman, Bach on the Beatles, and Van Gogh on countless contemporary artists. Here too we can find that it is the glory of God to conceal His beauty in works of art from many cultures and times, and the joy of His children to discover His witness and glory, wherever it may please God to reveal it (Prov. 25.2; Acts 14.17).
The arts are an excellent resource to help us fulfill our calling, whatever that calling may be. Since the arts are powerful to delight, instruct, remind, bear witness, and engage us for worship, it only makes sense that we should give more careful attention to learning about the arts and to incorporating forms of art into our walk with and work for the Lord. Books, websites, recordings, museums, online courses, and other resources for learning about the arts abound. We do well to have some component of our growth in the Lord devoted to the study of this important resource.
Our individual efforts to glorify God in our speech, lifestyle, dress, work, and artistic creations can lead others to consider Him in new ways. Given the many forms of the arts, and the ubiquitous interest in art by people in all walks of life, and the many opportunities for learning about and engaging the arts, to neglect this important field of endeavor is to forfeit a powerful resource for honoring God and knowing a fuller and more fruitful Christian life.
We were made for the arts by the Great Artist Himself. A great adventure of learning, delighting, growing, worshiping, and bearing witness awaits us in the arts, as we discover how to enjoy and use them for the glory of God and the blessing of our neighbors.
1. Why do you suppose the arts have such a small place in the life of contemporary Christians? Is this a good thing?
2. In your experience, which of the arts have you found most interesting and enjoyable? How might you begin to learn more about these arts?
3. How can Christians encourage and assist one another in making better use of the arts?
Next steps – Transformation: What’s one thing you can do, beginning today, to make better use of the arts in your Christian life?
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.